SCOTUS allows trans man to sue Catholic hospital

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Supreme Court Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, and Neil Gorsuch urge the court to extend the free exercise clause by recognizing a general right of religious objectors to refuse to comply with laws that “encumber” their religious beliefs, but clearly were unable to convince one of their Conservative colleagues to cast the fourth vote necessary to grant review of a California state court ruling that a transgender man can sue a Catholic hospital for discrimination because he canceled his hysterectomy. The court’s denial of review was announced on November 1.

Evan Minton’s doctor had scheduled the hysterectomy to be performed at Mercy San Juan Medical Center on August 30, 2016, as part of Minton’s gender transition. Mercy San Juan is one of the many hospitals owned by Dignity Health. When the hospital learned that the procedure was for gender transition purposes, it canceled the procedure, informing the doctor that she would “never” be allowed to perform a hysterectomy on Minton at Mercy because “it was planned. as part of treatment. for gender dysphoria, as opposed to any other medical diagnosis, “and this violated Catholic principles. The doctor, however, could perform hysterectomies on cisgender women for conditions such as” chronic pelvic pain. and uterine fibroids ”, which the hospital recognized as conditions requiring treatment.

According to the September 2019 opinion of the California First District Court of Appeals by Judge Stuart R. Pollak, the annulment caused Minton “great anxiety and grief.” Minton’s discrimination complaint against the hospital explained that the timing of the operation was particularly delicate as it was to be completed three months before his phalloplasty, which was scheduled for Nov. 23. The hospital president suggested to the doctor that she could get emergency admission privileges at Methodist Hospital, another hospital owned by Dignity Health, and eventually the procedure was performed there on September 2.

Nonetheless, Minton sued Dignity Health, alleging a violation of California’s Unruh Civil Rights Act, which prohibits public facilities from discriminating based on a person’s gender identity. Dignity claimed the First Amendment right not to have gender transition procedures performed at Mercy San Juan, arguing that by letting the procedure take place at the Methodist, he had fulfilled any obligation under the law to provide ” full and equal access ”to medical procedures without regard. gender, as required by law. The trial judge allowed Dignity Health’s motion to dismiss the complaint, saying the three-day delay caused by the need to change appointments at another Dignity Health-owned hospital was not illegal, even if, as Minton alleged, he was motivated by his gender. identity.

Reversing the trial judge, the Court of Appeal held that the Unruh Act applied to Minton’s intentional discrimination action against Dignity Health, and rejected Dignity Health’s argument that even though the court had ultimately concluded that the hospital’s denial of treatment in Mercy San Juan was motivated by her gender identity, her request would be prohibited under the guarantees of religious freedom and freedom of expression in the California and United States constitutions. Further, he ruled that California’s compelling interest in providing non-discriminatory access to medical treatment would outweigh the state’s constitutional freedom argument from the hospital.

Regarding Dignity Health’s federal constitution claim, the court cited the United States Supreme Court’s Masterpiece Cakeshop decision, which said: “While religious and philosophical objections are protected [by the First Amendment], it is a general rule that such objections do not allow business owners and other actors in the economy and society to deny protected persons equal access to goods and services under neutral law and generally applicable on public housing. This quote was based on the 1990 Supreme Court decision in Employment Division v. Smith, who reversed Supreme Court precedents saying otherwise.

The California Supreme Court dismissed Dignity Health’s request to review that decision on March 17, 2020.

Quashing the employment division against Smith is a major goal of conservative religious enthusiasts in the Supreme Court and the conservative legal community in general. In Fulton v. City of Philadelphia last spring they argued the court should have used this case to quash Smith, but they were unable to persuade Justices Amy Coney Barrett and Brett Kavanaugh, their likely allies on the matter, to do. The Dignity Health Supreme Court’s petition was filed by attorneys for Consovoy McCarthy PLLC, a company that specializes in advancing religious freedom claims in federal courts of appeals, joined by politically connected Los Angeles-based company Manatt , Phelps & Phillips LLP.

Dignity Health’s Supreme Court petition asked the court to answer the question of whether the free-practice clause “would prevent a state law claim that seeks to compel a religiously affiliated hospital to allow medical treatment. medical procedures that violate his long-standing and deeply held religious beliefs. “And whether the guarantees of freedom of expression and free association of the First Amendment” would prevent a claim of state right that seeks to compel a hospital affiliated with a religion to allow – and therefore to approve and be associated with – medical procedures that violate its long-standing and deeply held principles. religious beliefs?”

Although they did not file a dissenting opinion, Justices Thomas, Alito and Kavanaugh asked the clerk of the Court to indicate on the list of orders of November 1 that they would have granted the petition for review in this case. case.

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